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Fuhrman makes it happen

By Staff | Oct 16, 2009

Chris Fuhrman stands in the law library of the office he shares with his grandfather Max Pelzer. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

It was during a game with Sibley-Ocheyedan when Chris Furhman’s life changed.

Fuhrman tackled another player, and a S-O defender came at him sideways, hitting him in the temple with his helmet. It was a stunning hit. But since this was football, Fuhrman stayed on the field.

“I was just completely out of it,” Fuhrman recalled. All the next week he had dizzy spells and vomiting.

It was during the Spirit Lake game when everything happened, though.

“A tingling sensation caresses my legs as I make a tackle,” Fuhrman later recalled in a narrative – his application letter to law school. “The adrenaline in my veins forces me to ignore it. It is third down. After breaking the huddle I dig in to my position on the field. The quarterback drops back into the pocket. One … two … three … I back-pedal and read the field and … I freeze. I see the wide-out cut through the field toward me. I turn to run, but manage only a jog. I cannot feel myself running. It’s as if I were in a dream, trying to run as fast an I can but getting nowhere. Little did I know this dream would have an impact on the rest of my life.”

Chris Fuhrman’s high school football career at Estherville Lincoln Central was cut short by a life-threatening injury in his junior year. EDN file photo

“The receiver scored on me. Thinking that now I needed to do something great, I went back to return the kick. By now I could barely walk. After the kick, Coach called a timeout on the field. At that point, my legs were now shaking and I could not walk back out onto the field. It felt as if someone had erected an invisible barrier around the sideline.”

Fuhrman signaled to Dr. Bill Moreau, the team doctor, that something was wrong. There certainly was. Fuhrman couldn’t move. His teammates carried him to the sidelines, and as soon as his helmet was removed, Moreau could tell that it was bad.

Very bad.

Fuhrman learned later that his arms and legs were in a death curl. Moreau had brought a tank of oxygen, something he normally never did during a road game. There was about 30 seconds of oxygen left when the ambulance arrived and Fuhrman was life-flighted to Sioux Falls. Quick action by Moreau and Dr. Jim Creech and Dr. Randy Asman no doubt saved his life.

It just so happened that a specialist from Mayo was at the hospital. Fuhrman underwent a six-hour brain surgery for a subdural hematoma, a broken blood vessel in his brain. The doctors gave him a 1 percent chance of survival and thought his odds of living without severe brain damage were one in 3,000.

When a doctor’s assistant came in to tell Fuhrman what had happened, the first question he had was whether he could play in next Friday’s game.

“You will never play sports again,” the assistant told him.

“I cried,” Fuhrman remembered. “Not because I knew what had happened to me. Not because I knew how lucky I was to be alive. Not because I was able to talk, think and move in my bed. I cried because I could not play sports. I cried not for my life, but for a game.”

As he looks back on it, Fuhrman realizes how foolish that was as he lay there in the hospital, coming back the other way through death’s door.

The therapists estimated it would take two months to rehabilitate him physically – they still didn’t know how he would be mentally. He was able to read only at a second-grade level. He even looked different. Within two days, he had lost 25 pounds from his already lean frame as his brains sucked everything from his body to keep him alive.

It was while he was in the hospital that his life changed forever.

He met a former lawyer terminally ill with cancer. They quickly became friends, and when Fuhrman said he wanted to be a lawyer too, the man offered encouragement.

The day he left the hospital two weeks later – six weeks earlier than expected, something Fuhrman credits to his physical conditioning from football – he went to visit the attorney who had a 10-foot sign hanging from his wall that said MAKE IT HAPPEN.

The lawyer pointed to the banner.

“I live by that motto every day,” he said. “When I came to the hospital I told them I wanted a 10-foot banner that said, “MAKE IT HAPPEN.”

The nurse had told the man he couldn’t have it and he told her, of course, to make it happen. And so the banner happened.

“People are always going to tell you what they think you can and can’t do,” the man told him. “Just ignore them. Only you can make it happen.”

Fuhrman emailed the man a few weeks later, but he had passed away.

The man’s message stayed with him though.

None of it was easy.

Fuhrman had to learn everything all over again. It was as though he were a child and had to start from the beginning.

He had been given his life back, though, and just as he had learned as a child, he began to learn again.

Inch by inch.

Step by step.

Book by book.

He had to even think consciously to make his legs moved when he walked. But the harder he worked, the easier it was.

He had lost his short-term memory, so he had to study well ahead before exams. It took him two years to get back to where he had been before the surgery.

And then, like a seasoned race horse, he smashed through the gate.

He first attended college at Iowa Lakes Community College.

“I really enjoyed my experience at Iowa Lakes,” Fuhrman said. “Iowa Lakes did give me a lot of tools. They gave me a lot.”

Fuhrman soon was no longer behind. He finished his two-year degree at Iowa Lakes a year ahead of schedule, graduating with a perfect 4.0. He went from there to the University of Iowa where he double-majored in accounting and finance.

He never forgot football, though. And he never forgot the lawyer who had inspired him. And somehow that same grit and determination that inspired him on the gridiron came through in his application to law school. He was accepted at William Mitchell in St. Paul, graduating in May. He took the bar exam in August and just recently found that he had passed. He’s also now taking his CPA exam while he shares the same law office with his grandfather, Max Pelzer and Jennifer Bennett. Fuhrman and Abbie Dreeszen, previously from Spirit Lake, were married a year ago.

Some people face adversity and use it as an excuse to fail. A very rare few deal with it in the same way that Fuhrman did.

“Looking at the whole injury I was just very fortunate, I guess,” Fuhrman said.

So does he regret having played football?

Not in your life.

“It teaches you to get up on every play and every hit,” Furhman said.

“That’s life.”